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Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online
Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT): Editorial Guidelines

Note that you must print out each chapter as a separate PDF. To print the HTML page as a PDF, use the "print" function of your browser.


Purpose of these Guidelines
Purpose of the AAT


    1.1.1 Scope and Structure
    1.1.2 What is a Thesaurus?
    1.1.3 What is a "Concept" in the AAT? (warrant)

    1.2.1 Review process
    1.2.2 Does contributors' data follow editorial rules?

    1.3.1 Web browsers
    1.3.2 Licensed files

    1.4.1 Database
    1.4.2 Merged Records
    1.4.3 Operating VCS


    2.1.1 Following the rules
    2.1.2 Required fields and minimal records
    2.1.3 Format and values
    2.1.4 Capitalization and abbreviation
    2.1.5 Language of the Record
    2.1.6 Production goals
    2.1.7 Leaving unfinished records overnight
    2.1.8 Quality control
    2.1.9 Avoid plagiarism
    2.1.10 Uncertainty and ambiguity in display fields
    2.1.11 Uncertainty and ambiguity in indexing fields
    2.1.12 Uncertain identification of a concept

    2.2.1 Rules for merging
    2.2.2 Procedures for merging

    2.3.1 Rules for moving
    2.3.2 Procedures for moving

    2.4.1 Sample AAT record
    2.4.2 Sample AAT record in VCS

    2.5.1 About the fields
    2.5.2 List of VCS Fields


    3.1.1 Parents (required)
    3.1.2 Sort Order
    3.1.3 Historical Flag: Current or Historical parents and other flags
    3.1.4 Dates for relationship to parents
    3.1.5 Parent String
    3.1.6 Facet or Hierarchy Code

    3.2.1 Subject ID
(required default)
    3.2.2 Parent Key
    3.2.3 Merged Status
    3.2.4 Published Status
    3.2.5 Review Status
    3.2.6 Record Type
    3.2.7 Candidate Status
    3.2.8 Label
    3.2.9 Contributors for the Subject Record
    3.2.10 Sources for the Subject Record

    3.3.1 Term ID
    3.3.2 Term
    3.3.3 Preferred Flag
    3.3.4 Qualifier
    3.3.5 Sequence Number
    3.3.6 Historical Flag
    3.3.7 Term Type
    3.3.8 Vernacular Flag
    3.3.9 Language for Terms
    3.3.10 Preferred Flag for Language
    3.3.11 Contributor for Term
    3.3.12 Preferred Flag for Contributor
    3.3.13 Sources for Terms
    3.3.14 Page Number for Term Source
    3.3.15 Preferred Flag for Source
    3.3.16 Dates for Terms
    3.3.17 Display Term Flag
    3.3.18 AACR Flag (LC heading)
    3.3.19 Other Flags
    3.3.20 Assigned To

    3.4.1 Scope Note
    3.4.2 Sources for the Scope Note
    3.4.3 Contributor for the Scope Note

    3.5.1 Related Concepts
    3.5.2 Relationship Type
    3.5.3 Historical Flag
    3.5.4 Dates for Related Concepts

[Note: There are no sections 3.6 and 3.7 for the AAT Guidelines]

    3.8.1 Comment Flag
    3.8.2 Problem Flag
    3.8.3 Assigned To
    3.8.4 Special Project
    3.8.5 Facet Code
    3.8.6 Legacy ID
    3.8.7 Class Notation
    3.8.8 Image
    3.8.9 Index Note
    3.8.10 Not Found Note
    3.8.11 Status Note
    3.8.12 Editor Note
    3.8.13 Revision History

    4.1.1 How to Use Diacritical Codes
    4.1.2 Diacritical Codes: Quick Reference
    4.1.3 Diacritical Codes: Full List

    4.2.1 How to Record Dates
    4.2.2 How to Use the Date Authority
    4.2.3 Date Authority

    4.3.1 How to Record Sources
    4.3.2 Rules for Sources
    4.3.3 Merging Sources

    4.4.1 How to Record Contributors

    4.5.1 How to Record Languages
    4.5.2 List of Languages




compiled and edited by
Patricia Harpring, managing editor

the Getty Vocabulary Program
Antonio Beecroft, editor
Robin Johnson, editor
Jonathan Ward, editor
Ming Chen, editor

Revised: 24 June 2004; 18 July 2005;
28 March 2006; 12 November 2008;
2 February 2009


This document contains information about editorial practice for the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) ®, one of the vocabularies produced by the Getty Vocabulary Program. The other two vocabularies are the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN)® and the Union List of Artist Names (ULAN)®. NOTE: The guidelines in this document are subject to frequent modification and addition.


Purpose of these guidelines
This document contains rules and guidelines intended for use by the editors of the Getty Vocabulary Program using the in-house editorial system, VCS (Vocabulary Coordination System). Contributors to the Getty Vocabularies and implementers of the licensed vocabulary data may consult these guidelines as well. However, contributors and implementers should keep in mind that they must extrapolate information and guidance appropriate for their own needs and uses.


Purpose of the AAT
The AAT, TGN, and ULAN are structured vocabularies that can be used to improve access to information about art, architecture, and material culture.

  • They may be used as data value standards at the point of documentation or cataloging. In this context, they may be used as a controlled vocabulary or authority. They provide preferred terms (or descriptors) for concepts, as well as synonyms that could be used by the cataloger or indexer. They also provide structure and classification schemes that can aid in documentation.

  • They may be used as search assistants in database retrieval systems, taking advantage of the semantic networks of links and paths between concepts; these relationships can make retrieval more successful.

  • They may be utilized as research tools, valuable because of the rich information and contextual knowledge that they contain.

The focus of each of the Getty vocabularies is art, architecture, and material culture. The vocabularies provide terminology and other information about the objects, concepts, artists, and places important to various disciplines that specialize in these subjects. The primary users of the Getty vocabularies include museums, art libraries, archives, visual resource collection catalogers, bibliographic projects concerned with art, researchers in art and art history, and the information specialists who are dealing with the needs of these users. In addition, a significant number of users of the Getty vocabularies are students and members of the general public.


The Getty Vocabularies are copyrighted: Copyright © 2005 J. Paul Getty Trust. All rights reserved. The AAT and the other Getty vocabularies are made available via the Web to support limited research and cataloging efforts (see Companies and institutions interested in regular or extensive use of the vocabularies should explore licensing options by contacting the Vocabulary Program ( The licensed data is available in three formats: XML, Relational Tables, and MARC.


AAT is a compiled resource; it is not comprehensive. It grows over time to become gradually more comprehensive, to reflect changes in the development and usage of language and terminology, and to accommodate new research in art history and archaeology. The AAT grows through contributions. Information in the AAT was compiled by the Getty Vocabulary Program (and earlier groups in Williamstown, Massachusetts) in collaboration with many institutions. Institutions interested in becoming contributors to the AAT should write to, explaining the scope of their collections and likely contributions.


For further information, please contact

the Getty Vocabulary Program

Getty Vocabulary Program
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles, CA 90049







General Information about the AAT





Scope and Structure



Scope of the AAT
The AAT is a structured vocabulary currently containing around 128,000 terms and other information about concepts. Terms in AAT may be used to describe art, architecture, decorative arts, material culture, and archival materials. Terms for any concept may include the plural form of the term, singular form, natural order, inverted order, spelling variants, various forms of speech, terms in different languages, and synonyms that have various etymological roots. Among these terms, one is flagged as the preferred term, or descriptor. The temporal coverage of the AAT ranges from Antiquity to the present. The scope of the AAT is multicultural and international. Although originally mainly Western in scope, the AAT constantly grows to encompass all cultures in all parts of the world.



Structure of the Data
The focus of each AAT record is called a concept. Currently there are around 34,000 concepts in the AAT. In the database, each concept's record (also called a subject in this manual) is identified by a unique numeric ID. Linked to each concept record are terms, related concepts, a parent (that is, a position in the hierarchy), sources for the data, and notes.

  • The AAT is a hierarchical database; its trees branch from a root called Top of the AAT hierarchies (Subject_ID: 300000000). There may be multiple broader contexts, making the AAT polyhierarchical. In addition to the hierarchical relationships, the AAT has equivalence and associative relationships; thus it is a thesaurus, in compliance with ISO and NISO standards.

  • Unpublished facets in AAT are used for candidate records. Unpublished facets and hierarchies are designated by the "name" temp.parent (e.g., temp.parent/candidate records)



Facets and heirarchies
Facets constitute the major subdivisions of the AAT hierarchical structure. A facet contains a homogeneous class of concepts, the members of which share characteristics that distinguish them from members of other classes. For example, marble refers to a substance used in the creation of art and architecture, and it is found in the Materials facet. Impressionist denotes a visually distinctive style of art, and it is found in the Styles and Periods facet.

  • The conceptual framework of facets and hierarchies in the AAT is designed to allow a general classification scheme for art and architecture. The framework is not subject-specific; for example, there is no defined portion of the AAT that is specific only for Renaissance painting. Terms to describe Renaissance paintings will be found in many locations in the AAT hierarchies.




What is a Thesaurus?

  • The AAT is a thesaurus. A thesaurus is a semantic network of unique concepts, including relationships between synonyms, broader and narrower (parent/child) contexts, and other related concepts. Thesauri allow three types of relationships: equivalence (synonym), hierarchical (whole/part or genus/species), and associative. Thesauri may be monolingual or multilingual. Most fields in AAT records are written in English. While the AAT is not fully multilingual strictly speaking, the structure of the AAT supports multilinguality insofar as terms and scope notes may be written and flagged in multiple languages. Thesauri are used to ensure consistency in indexing and to facilitate the retrieval of information.

Most fields in AAT records are written in English. However, the structure of the AAT supports multilinguality insofar as terms and scope notes may be written and flagged in multiple languages. All terms are written in the Roman alphabet (pending our conversion to Unicode in 2009);





Thesauri may have the following three relationships:





Equivalence relationships
The relationships between synonymous terms or names that refer to the same concept, typically distinguishing preferred terms (descriptors) and non-preferred terms (variants, or ALTs and UFs).





Hierarchical relationships
Broader and narrower (parent/child) relationships between concepts. Hierarchical relationships are generally either whole/part or genus/species; in the AAT, most hierarchical relationships are genus/species (e.g., chalice is a type of drinking vessel). Relationships may be polyhierarchical, meaning that each child may be linked to multiple parents.





Associative relationships
The relationships between concepts that are closely related conceptually, but the relationship is not hierarchical because it is not whole/part or genus/species.






What is a "Concept" in the AAT?

  • Terms in the AAT represent abstract concepts, physical attributes such as shape, pattern, and color, style or period, activities, performers of activities, materials, objects, and visual and verbal communication forms discussed within the literature of art, architecture, and material culture. In the context of the AAT, a "concept" (or "subject record") represents terminology needed for cataloguing art, excluding proper names; thus it can be described as containing information about generic concepts (as opposed to proper nouns or names). The AAT may include terminology to describe the type of work (e.g., sculpture), its material (e.g., bronze), activities associated with the work (e.g., casting), its style (e.g., Art Nouveau), the role of the creator (e.g., sculptor), and other attributes or various abstract concepts (e.g., symmetry). It does not include proper names of persons, organizations, geographic places, named subjects, or named events.





Warrant for a concept
A major issue in creating AAT records is how to determine if a word or words truly represent a definable, unique "concept" in common and scholarly usage, or if it is simply a string of words (which would not be included in the AAT). A concept is single word or multiple words that are used consistently to refer to the identical generic concept, type of work material, activity, style, role or other attribute.

  • In order to determine if the words are truly accepted by the community, that they consistently represent a definable concept, and that the preferred term (descriptor) is the term most often used to refer to this concept, the AAT requires three pieces of literary warrant for the preferred term. See 3.3 Terms for further discussion.





Discrete concepts
A "concept" in the context of the AAT is a discrete thing or idea. Records in the AAT generally represent discrete concepts, not subject headings. In contrast to a discrete concept, a subject heading typically concatenates multiple terms or concepts together in a string. For example, Pre-Columbian sculptures is a heading composed of terms representing two discrete concepts: Pre-Columbian (a style and period) and sculpture (a type of work). Pre-Columbian as a style and period term may be combined with many other terms and retain its meaning; sculpture also could be combined with many other style or period terms and still retain its meaning.

  • Note that a term for a concept is not necessarily composed of only one word; terms describing discrete concepts include the following: rose windows, flying buttresses, book of hours, High Renaissance, and lantern slides. We maintaining discrete concepts, as opposed to headings or compound terms, in the structure of the AAT in order to make it more versatile in cataloguing and more powerful in retrieval.





Range of coverage
The AAT includes the following types of terms: Associate Concepts (abstract concepts and phenomena, e.g., beauty, balance), Physical Attributes (characteristics and features, e.g., strapwork, borders), Styles and Periods (e.g., Xia, French), Agents (e.g., printmakers, landscape architects), Activities (e.g., archaeology, engineering), Materials (e.g., iron, clay), and Objects (e.g., paintings, amphorae). See 3.1 Hierarchical Relationships for a fuller discussion regarding what is included in each facet.





What is excluded from the AAT?
The AAT contains terminology for "concepts"; see What is a "Concept" in the AAT above. The AAT contains no proper names; therefore specific named buildings, individual people, named corporate bodies, and named historical events are out of scope for the AAT. All terms in the AAT must refer to a case of many (generic things), not a case of one (specific things). In contrast, a proper name refers to a unique thing: a case of one. The scope of the AAT is further narrowed to only concepts having to do with art, architecture, and related disciplines.





Editorial control









Review Process

  • Records are created and edited by the Vocabulary Program editors and trained, established contributors, following the Editorial Rules laid out in this manual.

  • As time permits, the Vocabulary Program reviews individual records from contributors before they are released in the AAT. All contributions are checked, but with less supervision required for trained, established contributors.

  • Vocabulary Program (VP) editors follow strict rules when adding new records to the AAT. VP editors edit the contributors' records to comply with VP policy and practice; however, given the large number of records in the AAT, editors do not have the time or resources to edit every record. An editorial goal is to have uniform and homogeneous records throughout the AAT, but employing flexible standards for contributors' data means that the AAT database as a whole is not entirely consistent or totally uniform.

  • The VP collects new issues that arise during the course of accepting contributions and editing the AAT. The resolutions of these issues are periodically transferred to an updated version of the manual.









Does contributors' data follow editorial rules?

  • The Vocabulary Program communicates with and trains potential contributors, to assure that 1) the incoming data will be within the scope of the AAT, and 2) the incoming data will be in appropriate format and generally consistent with the AAT standards.

  • Every effort is made to ensure that the AAT data is consistent. However, given that the AAT may be compiled from various contributors' automated records, it is necessary to allow "flexible standards" in order to accept contributions. Compliance with the critical standards regarding technical rules, structure, content, and editorial guidelines are required; however, certain other content and editorial guidelines are considered non-critical and are therefore not strictly enforced for some contributors.









Releasing the data









Web browsers

  • Data is released to the online Web versions of the AAT, TGN, and ULAN monthly, on or near the first of the month. Data for the release is taken during the third or fourth week of the preceding month.









Licensed files

  • Data in formats available for licensing is released annually in June. The data is released in three formats: relational tables, XML, and MARC. AAT editors clean the data as well as possible prior to each annual release.









Vocabulary Coordination System (VCS)

  • VCS is the editorial system used to house and edit the three Getty Vocabularies. Each vocabulary is stored in a separate iteration of VCS. References to "the system" refer to VCS. References made to "fields" refer to data elements in VCS. References to a "record" or "subject record" refer to an intellectual record comprising all the data linked to a given Subject ID in the data structure.










  • VCS uses a relational database; the database models for each of the three vocabularies are identical in most ways, differing only where necessary. See the Data Dictionary for further information.









Merged Records

  • The AAT is compiled from terms and other information that has been collected by the Getty and other institutions. When multiple contributors have submitted information about the same concept, all the terms and information about this concept should be merged into a single record ("merge" is a function of the VCS editorial system).









Operating VCS

  • The chapters in this manual contain definitions of the fields, suggested values, sources where the values may be found, and rules for entering the data where relevant. The fields are presented roughly in the order in which they are found in VCS.

  • While there is some mention of the functionality of VCS in this manual, detailed instructions for the system are not included here. Instructions regarding how to use VCS are provided during training.

Last updated 1 July 2009 by Patricia Harpring
Document is subject to frequent revisions


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